OK, maybe Mets fans feel a little differently, and perhaps cable wasn’t readily available in some households. But for most others, Jones was the face of Braves baseball on TBS, and you watched Braves Baseball on TBS. Don’t lie. You know exactly what I’m talking about.
Surely, there’s plenty of others like me out there who would always tune in to TBS — or at least flip over occasionally — each night to watch the Braves, even without a vested rooting interest in the franchise. After all, it was really the only consistently televised baseball outside of the local team until MLB Extra Innings surfaced in 1996. There were games on other networks, including FOX and ESPN, but if you were ever in the mood for some NL action, you had the comfort of knowing that the Braves were just a channel away.
OK, big deal, right? Well, for those like myself, it really is a big deal. Jones was the guy when it came to watching those games, so his farewell tour in many ways completely closes the book on those days. Until this point, I, and probably many others, wanted to hang on to those days a little bit, even if they were many moons ago.
It’s sort of similar to Jones’ career, in fact. He hasn’t been his Hall of Fame self the past few years, and he probably knew the end was near, yet we kept seeing the veteran penciled in to Atlanta’s Opening Day lineup year after year.
Yes, I said “Hall of Fame self.” While Jones’ candidacy for the Hall is somewhat debatable, I know I’m not alone in saying he deserves induction on the first ballot. Mid 90s childhood memories aside, he has the credentials.
Jones wasn’t just the guy on some national broadcasts that enjoyed solid ratings for a period of time, he was the guy on a perennial contender. The Braves’ success was in large part the result of a lights-out pitching staff that included Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz, but Jones anchored the offense on a team that won 14 straight NL East division titles. Although Atlanta only won one World Series title in that time, it reached four others, and can legitimately say it was a powerhouse team in the National League for more than a decade. That goes a long way toward giving Jones a passing grade on the eye test, which is a concept that seems so ignorant, yet makes so much sense when you really think about it.
Make no mistake about it, though, Jones’ credentials go beyond just a gut response. His All-Star selection this season was his eighth — a nice number but by no means a pack separator. His other numbers, however, which are even more impressive when given context, create a map to Cooperstown.
Jones’ numbers could fluctuate by the end of the year, but he’s in line to become the first switch-hitter in MLB history with at least a .300 batting average, .400 on-base percentage and .500 slugging percentage for his career. Even Mickey Mantle, Pete Rose and Eddie Murray — regarded as three of the game’s all-time great switch-hitters — can’t even stake claim to such.
In fact, Jones’ numbers rank among the best across the board when it comes to switch-hitters, which has to amount for something when he’s up for the Hall in 2017. Plus, he won an MVP Award in 1999, a season that’s smack dab in the middle of the Steroid Era. Yet, you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who’d point to Jones as a guy who took PEDs.
No, Jones never had a 200-hit season. He never won a Gold Glove. He won’t reach 3,000 hits. He won’t hit 500 home runs. But his numbers are still impressive, and he thrived from both sides of the plate at a position that’s low on Hall of Fame representatives.
Most importantly, though, Jones did it all with class. That immeasurable trait might not necessarily be something that’s considered in the minds of the voters, but it should be enough to put a fringe player like Jones over the top when in doubt.
Then again, my view is probably skewed by those nights I sat in front of the TV and watched a smiling Chipper Jones play the game with unmatched passion. Those memories are eternal, and I can’t help but think that Jones’ place in baseball history should be as well.